Writings of the general word's body

Monday, May 31, 2010

Best new queer African short fiction

Call for submissions

We respectfully invite you to submit a piece of short fiction on a queer African theme for consideration for our anthology.

Let the African imagination take us beyond the limits of what facts can do.

The anthology’s host is Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), the pioneering, highly regarded South African gay and lesbian archives, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. GALA’s primary work is to collect and present documentary evidence of the queer African experience. Accurate records play a crucial role in social justice for any marginalized group. But what about the role of the imagination?

Recent human rights violations against queer people in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda represent a failure of the imagination. The arts can provide an antidote or at least an alternative to violent and repressive responses to diversity. GALA intends the anthology to show that there are many ways of being African and to encourage queer artistic expression and appreciation. Queer arts have often been the vanguard of progressive and transgressive culture, opening up or protecting space for freedom of expression for everyone. GALA anticipates that the anthology will challenge and contribute to mainstream discourses on both African artistic production and African sexuality.

Literary merit and an insightful response to the complexities of African queerness will guide the selection. By publishing world class writers (new and established), the anthology will be pushing open the doors for queer writing and talent. Writers need not identify as queer, but they do need to identify as African. The stories will be selected and edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin.

GALA has a fine publishing record. It has been producing well-received books since 2005, and its recent Black Bull, Ancestors and Me, was granted honour status by the 2010 Stonewall Book Awards. GALA has secured publishing interest in the anthology, which will be distributed across Africa and internationally.

We would be honoured to consider your unpublished short fiction of between 1,000 and 5,000 words.

Please send it to queerafricanfiction@gmail.com by 30 June 2010. Provide a covering page with the title of the story, your first name and surname, your email address and a contact telephone number, and a bio of not more than 100 words. All submissions will be acknowledged. The selection will be made by 30 September 2010 for publishing in June 2011. The anthology will be launched at the 2011 Cape Town Book Fair. With writers’ permissions, all submissions will be archived by GALA and will be accessible to the archives’ many local and international users.

For more information email queerafricanfiction@gmail.com. Or find us on Facebook.

Makhosazana Xaba has published two books of poetry: these hands (Timbila, 2005) and Tongues of their Mothers (UKZN Press, 2008). Her short stories, essays and poetry have appeared in many anthologies. She regularly writes profiles of women artists, poets, playwrights, film makers and writers for the South African Labour Bulletin and is writing a biography of Noni Jabavu. Her four children’s books for the foundation and intermediate phases were published by Nutrend Publishers. In 2005 she won the Deon Hofmeyr Award for Creative Writing for her then unpublished short story, Running. She holds a Diploma in Journalism (with distinction) from the Werner Lamberz International Institute of Journalism and an MA in Writing (with distinction) from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Karen Martin is an emerging, recently published writer of short fiction. She is a professional editor and copy editor. She has initiated and developed several projects for Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action, including Balancing Act, a book and exhibition of South African LGBTI youth life stories, and Til the Time of Trial, a booklet featuring the prison letters of LGBTI and HIV/AIDS activist Simon Nkoli. She is the co-editor of Sex and Politics, a collection of essays, memoirs and archival documents about the South African LGBTI rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle. She is a member of the GALA board of trustees.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Toyin Akinosho Unplugged

Culture activist Toyin Akinosho (middle, with his cake) surrounded by arts elders including: Tunde Kelani, Ben Tomoloju, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Joke Silva, Mobolaji Adenubi, Odia Ofeimun and Frank Okonta. I took this picture at the pre-birthday celebration for Akinosho at Terra Kulture, Lagos on May 12. The event was then followed by the birthday jam thrown by Akinosho himself at his Mars House Festac Town residence in Lagos on May 17.

Later today, I'm co-anchoring (with radio personality Tosyn Bucknor) Toyin Akinosho Unplugged at the Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. According to Rope Ewenla (moderator on May 12), these and coming events are all in a "pretence" of celebrating Toyin Akinosho at 50.

Details of tonight's event in the press release below

On the 16th of May 2010, Toyin Alfred Akinosho – Geologist, Publisher Africa Oil & Gas Report and Secretary General of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) attained the age of 50. In celebrating this Silver Jubilee, an Arthouse Forum was held in his honour on the 12th of May at Terra Kulture and Monday the 17th of May was a day of feasting for his friends and associates as they joined him to felicitate at his Festac Town residence. The man better known by many for his Artsville Column in The Sunday Guardian is a force of nature that has continually courted and interrogated the development of the arts of the land on different platforms.

On Thursday the 27th May from 5pm at the Jazzhole, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, (because Mr. Akinosho is the world’s greatest ‘excerptist’ insisting on reading excerpts from books at every opportunity and to any audience) a special night has been planned for readings of excerpts from books and perhaps snippets from his own writing in The Guardian and other publications. It would be particularly interesting to have people show up with ancient articles from his days as a cub-reporter whether with the energy desk or the arts desk of the papers he started out with. These readings will serve as interludes to A CONVERSATION WITH TOYIN AKINOSHO, anchored by Molara Wood, Art and Culture Editor of NEXT Newspapers and Tosyn Bucknor, on-air personality and host of the morning show on Top Radio 90.9fm.

Other events on the month-long programme planned in his honour (an excuse really to do some of those things his committee of friends know he has held important in his years of art journalism and advocacy for the arts, and of course to have plain good old fun!) include a play reading session in partnership with the National Troupe, a secondary schools debate, an art exhibition and a variety night.

Details of these other events will be disseminated as they draw close, meanwhile, do join us (with great excerpts to read too) at the Jazzhole on Thursday the 27th May from 5pm till 8.30pm for A CONVERSATION WITH TOYIN AKINOSHO, where all will be laid plain on the exciting life and times of this man of the arts.

Ropo Ewenla: firo_po@yahoo. co.uk
Ayodele Arigbabu: arigbs@gmail. com 08033000499

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Premiere of Small Boy

Michello Bello's film, Small Boy premieres Thursday May 27 in Lagos.

@ Silverbird Galleria,
Ahmadu Bello Way,
Victoria Island, Lagos.

Cocktails from 6pm.
Film screening begins at 8.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jackie Kay and the good lie

I've read several accounts over the years of British poet Jackie Kay's first meeting with her Nigerian biological father, and it never fails to move. Reading her poetry collection Life Mask (inspired by the birth father), I was astonished by the warmth and generosity shown to a man who told Kay she was his 'past sin' - to be kept a secret from his Nigerian family, mindless of how that might hurt his long abandoned child. A pastor of some sort who saw nothing wrong in a continued life of lies, secrets and hypocrisy. I've also seen Kay read poems from Life Mask at least twice, once at the South Bank Centre in London and again last year at the Farafina Trust literary evening in Lagos. From the audience at last year's reading, I put my long-held question to the poet: how could you be so forgiving of such a man? She answered with the same lack of judgement I'd gleaned from her poems.

The father himself, known only as Jonathan, has become a major theme in Jackie Kay's work. And so in today's Observer is an excerpt from her memoir, recalling again that first meeting. Jonathan is insensitive, sure - and riddled with contradictions - but he's painted as neither good nor bad, just deeply flawed. And immensely fascinating, a Nigerian man of the cloth who readily accepts his daughter's lesbianism (it's the homosexuals God's got issue with, he tells her!) - though he can't help wondering how the thing works ('which one of you is the man?' he wants to know).

There is mention of Kay's former long-term partner, the poet Carol Ann (Duffy). Duffy's 'Rapture' - a beautiful, red, hardcover little book complete with a red ribbon page marker - is a favourite of mine. Achingly beautiful poems on the pages attest to why Duffy is so revered in the UK. My several hundred books are still waiting to be cargoed or shipped from England, but when I was relocating I had about 20 books that travelled down with me in my suitcase. 'Rapture' is one of them. I read it regularly and carry many of the lines in my head, like the beginning of 'Text' -

I tend the mobile now
like an injured bird...

The fact that Jackie Kay has made something of herself as a writer clearly did nothing to sway the father from his decision to keep her a secret. It is a bit touching when at the end he urges her to make their meeting "a happy thing." And that, she's certainly done.

And now we're in the room. I'm about to have a conversation with my birth father for the first time. "Ask me anything," Jonathan says, staring at me, "I will try and answer it." "First," I say, "I'll give you a gift." I get his present out of the hotel safe. He opens the wrapping paper, slowly, with some enjoyment, and peeps in the box. "This is very generous of you. This is very kind," he says looking at the silver watch. He tries it on. It is too big. His wrist is thinner than I'd calculated back in Arthur Kay's jeweller's in Manchester. I'm sad it is not exactly right. Jonathan says, "No, it fits perfectly! It is a very nice watch. How much did it cost?" I try to shrug this question off politely, but he pushes. "How much, tell me. I'm curious to know what a watch like this would cost." He is still staring at the solid silver bangle, loose on his arm. "A hundred pounds," I say, giving in. "A hundred pounds!" he whistles.

Then he says, "Now I have a question for you. Would you mind very much if I gave this watch to my wife?" I'm stunned. "Yes, I would mind," I say. "I bought the watch for you. It is a gift for you. I like to think of you wearing it and that you might sometimes think of me when you look at the time." "I don't need to wear your watch to think about you," he says. "That's nice," I say touched, "but I'd still prefer you kept the watch." "It's only that I have a watch already and my wife doesn't have a watch," he says. "Well, why don't you give her the watch you have and keep the watch I've given you?" "This is a good solution," he says. "I didn't think about that. This is what I'll do. But now you must make up a lie for me to explain the watch. How would I get it? How would I have come across such a watch?"

I feel oddly flattered by this. He has told lies to come and meet me and now needs more lies to return home with the unexplained Seiko watch ticking on his arm. Perhaps all lies are fixed to some timing device that will eventually explode. "Who did you say you were going to meet in Abuja? Religious people? Students? Whoever it was, tell her that somebody who admires your work had been given this watch from a friend in England as a present and they wanted you to have it." He nods sagely and says, "This is a good lie."

Yesterday's BookJam

Chuma Nwokolo (standing) reads from his poetry collections, Memories of Stone, at yesterday's BookJam - the fourth edition also featuring (from left) Binyavanga Wainaina, Sade Adeniran and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Nwokolo followed his reading of a poem on old shirts with an excerpt from his book, 'Diaries of a Dead African'. The hilarious passage brought the house down and probably led to quite a few sales of the book for the author to autograph afterwards.

Wainaina was the first reader, followed by Sade Adeniran (who read a funny 'wormy' episode from Imagine This, after which the main character, Lola Ogunwole misguidedly plots her expulsion from a hated school by opening her legs).

Adichie read work the of two participants in the ongoing Farafina Writing workshop, the pieces actually produced during the sessions. The workshop writers were all at the event - and yes, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma did make it after all.

The BookJam packed them in, into the Lifestyle Bookstore of the Silverbird Galleria on Victoria Island. This being an event involving Adichie, BookJam 4 also had its share of the now familiar 'Chimamanda groupies' who can't ask a question or comment without beginning with 'Oh, I love you sooo much. You are so wonderful. I can't believe you're here in front of us etcetera etcetera'. The spontaneous burst of declared affection is now usually drowned out by the ohhhs and ahhhs of a knowing crowd - as yesterday's main contender discovered, while someone said 'pass the tissue!'

Usually held on the last Saturday of the month, BookJam was moved forward this month because the Farafina literary event of readings and music which traditionally closes Adichie's workshop, holds next Saturday (at the Civic Centre, Lagos).

Sade Adeniran continues her book tour at the House of Makeda today.
  • Images by MW - see Igoni Barrett's photos here

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chika Unigwe reads in Abuja

Belgium based Chika Unigwe, in Nigeria as a facilitator for the Farafina Workshop, is reading in Abuja on Wednesday 26 May, in an Infusion event at JB's Grill, Maitama, starting 6pm. She will read from her second novel, On Black Sisters' Street, about Nigerian prostitutes in Europe. Other details on the flyer.

Sade Adeniran's book tour

From a lucky scrape on the road to Ife earlier this week to today's BookJam, Sade Adeniran powers on with her book tour of Nigeria with a reading event tomorrow at the House of Makeda in Lagos, where she'll be supported with music by the sultry gospel of Sola Allyson (left), famous for the Yoruba hit, Eji Owuro.
House of Makeda
7 Manuwa Street, Off Keffi Street
Off Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos
4pm, Sunday 23 May, 2010
Sade Adeniran won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) and her award winning novel, 'Imagine This', is now published in Nigeria (Cassava Republic). The book and Sola Allyson's latest CD, Imo Ore - will be on sale at a special price of N1.500 for the two.
Other dates on Sade Adeniran's tour
  • Tuesday 25th May - Guest Writer at the Write Squad's monthly book club with 8 Abuja schools, event hosted by Minister of Education, Professor Adeniran (no relation).
  • Wednesday 26th May - Nassarawa State University.
  • Thursday 27th May - Reading at the University of Abuja
  • Thursday 27th May @ 5.30pm - Sheraton Abuja reading alongside Lola Shoneyin (author of the poetry collection, For the Love of Flight).

Enquiries to: Plug Media (+234 8023 457 766 / plugnigeria@gmail.com).

Images: Publicity photos

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ebedi Writers' Residency

Joy! A writer's residency in Nigeria!

Ebedi Writers Residency: Call for Applications

About Ebedi
The Ebedi International Writer’s Residency is administered by EBEDI International Writers Resort. Located in the idyllic scenery of Iseyin town in Iseyin local government area of Oyo State Nigeria , the Ebedi Resort provides an inspiring ambience to churn out creative works away from the rigours and bustle of everyday work and life.

The residency whose Patron is Dr. Wale Okediran, will be administered by the Ebedi’s Writers Residency Management Board under the Chairperson of Maryam Ali Ali. Other members of the board are Akintayo Abodunrin, Uche Peter Umez, Tokunbo Okediran and Alkasim Abdulkadir as Secretary to the board.

Ebedi Writers Residency is a well furnished 4 bedroom Bungalow complete with Kitchen, bathroom and Patio area.A standby generator and water bole facilities as well security arrangements are also available. A large well landscaped compound and the adjoining hills will complement a beautiful Writers Resort.

The Writer-in-resident shall be granted a stay not more than six weeks.

The Management Board shall also provide the writer with a grant enough to cover feeding and incidental expenses during course of stay.

How to Apply
All applicants must specify two preferences for the time of their residency; successful applicants will be offered the first available spot in accordance to their preference.

To apply, please send in the following:
  • Biographical sketch including publications, performances and writing credits
  • Ten page sample of your latest work.
  • One-page description of the work to be undertaken while at the Residency
  • Two letters of recommendation e-mailed directly to the e-mail address mentioned above
  • If the applicant has a publishing contract for the project in process, he/ she should kindly state this.

Ebedi’s Writers Residency is open to both writers based in Nigeria and international writers who have published books in the categories of novels, short stories, poetry or plays.
Writers should have a specific project they will be developing or completing at the Residency.
Selected writers will be expected to contribute to the Iseyin Community's educational development by organizing a literary activity such as a writing workshop or literary competition among the students of a secondary school in the town during the duration of the program. Regardless of the country of origin, the applicant must be fluent in speaking English.

Selection Criteria
Ebedi Writers’ Residency program mainly focuses on the professional experience of writers, quality of past work and their potential to have a productive time while they are residents.
Major factors in making the selection will be the literary achievement of the applicant to date and the ability to produce a work of substantial literary quality. The Management Board will make the final selection of two (2) for each Residency Season.

All applications must get to the board before close of business on the 15th of June 2010.

Completed applications should be sent to alkasim.abdulkadir@yahoo.com

Nigerian visa officials are pigs too

Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma who by now should be in Nigeria for the Farafina Trust Workshop, is in far away South Africa not believing what's happened to her, due to the immovability of visa officials who, having extracted (or extorted) a huge amount in visa fees, ensured she could not get on her Wednesday flight to Lagos. They told her to come back today, Friday. The workshop started yesterday. The writer posted about her frustration, to put it mildly:

I go to the embassy. And then, and then they say, there is some stamp on some paper that is not clear, I need to get a clearer one. My flight leaves this afternoon, I try to tell them. They really don’t care, just get a clearer stamp, they say. But why couldn’t they have told me this the very first day I submitted my papers? Or called me, since, as they could see from the workshop dates and the flight dates, I am supposed to leave today. I mean I did pay a visa application fee, and what I know is most embassies do call you if there is a problem and the time frame for the visa is stringent, such as in my case. I mean what is this visa fee for at the end of it, really. I do not say all of this, of course, even though I am thinking it; what I need is to get co-operation, not cause friction. I try to plead now, because time is no longer on my side, I tell them, my business in Nigeria is as clear as can be; all I applied for was a single entry visa to go and attend a writing workshop for 10 days, I have the invitation letter, and my ticket clearly shows that I would leave South Africa the day before the workshop and leave Nigeria the day after the workshop. All I want is to enter Nigeria to attend a writing workshop, please, I am just a student, and I am also a writer, this workshop is of the utmost importance to me. Ok ok, so I realise that reasoning with these people will not work. I run around, get them the clear stamp they want. I return to the embassy, plead with them, please, my flight leaves this afternoon, I need this visa. Don’t tell us you need this visa, they say, it’s not up to us, it’s up to the Officer in Charge. Ok ok, calm down Novuyo, calm down. So can you please just bring this to the attention of the Officer in Charge and please please point out to him that my flight leaves in two and a half hours. If ever there was an emergency, this is it. And I assume any reasonable person should grant me this visa, I mean my business is clear, I have run around to get them everything they ask, I have my flight ticket, my flight leaves this afternoon, and I parted with R780 for this visa. I mean I am as serious as can be, I have done everything in my power to make sure this works as smoothly as possible, surely they can see that, surely they can empathise, surely they can put a little effort and make this happen, because my fate now literally rests in their hands. That is what I am trying to get across. So I wait. And wait. And wait. An hour passes. Please, I say, I really need this visa. And what do they tell me? The person who does the visas has gone out, and we don’t know when he is coming back.

Sadly, this nasty visa scenario is what gives with Nigerian officialdom and sundry service providers daily. The girl in the restaurant drags her feet and 'serves' you - eventually - with a permanent scowl on her face. There is no 'please' and no 'thank you', certainly no 'sorry'. They don't give you all your change because they don't have 20, 50 naira notes and they expect you to just accept it and walk away - it doesn't even occur to them to apologise - as of course they don't when things advertised on the menu are not available. They just shrug and say: we don't have it, no explanation, no embarrassment, they're just impassive. They act as though you're bugging them as they take your money off you.

Same with banks, where the cashier will have a full conversation with colleagues behind the counter while you're standing there like an idiot, a captive audience. Or they will take personal phone calls and ignore the customer, who shifts from one foot to another. You get no service, no satisfaction, no respect. Certainly no empathy, something Tshuma was desperately in need of. Having lived in England where politeness is key when dealing with customers, I'm constantly appalled at the terribly poor customer service in Nigeria, and I sometimes flare up, telling the person 'serving' just what I think of their behaviour. They are always taken aback, as though I were the one being unreasonable.

As it is in the lowest establishments, it is in the bigger ones, where the stakes are inevitably higher - like a writer sitting in a Nigerian visa office in SA while at the airport her flight takes off without her.

Writers' narrow escape from robbers

Three writers on the way to Ile-Ife were waylaid by armed robbers, one of whom shot at the writers' retreating car. Press release from their publisher, Cassava Republic, below

Three of Cassava Republic Press' award-winning authors, Toni Kan (author of Nights of the Creaking Bed), Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (I Do Not Come To You By Chance) and Sade Adeniran (Imagine This) were Tuesday 18th May attacked by armed bandits as they travel from Lagos to Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife for a book reading with the university community.

When their car slowed between Ibadan and Ife, it quickly became clear to all that there was an armed robbery taking place ahead. A few moments later, a robber with a gun passed in front of the car. He pointed the gun at the driver and demanded angrily that he stop. The driver quickly reversed and sped backwards, while the robber shot at them.

“Luckily no one was hurt. The car waited for a while a few miles away with other parked cars. After a while, they decided it was better to move forward than to return to Lagos. They passed by where the incident had taken place. There were lots of cars and buses parked along the road, all empty. The passengers and drivers had fled into the bush,” Bibi Bakare, Publishing Director of Cassava Republic Press, narrated.

The writers eventually reached OAU. Later that evening where they were hosted by OAU Alumni Society, reading from their works to an excited audience.

“All three Cassava Republic writers survived to tell the tale! Although, it is a traumatic experience, we are very grateful that no one was hurt and we hoped that the passengers of the robbed car were unhurt.

“We are very happy that the authors arrived in Ife safely, even if they were traumatised by the event,” Bakare recounted, adding that the incident highlights the continued insecurity of lives in the country and the fact that a simple road journey is potentially a death trap. “We hope that the government will take security issues in the country very seriously as well as the underlining issues that has made armed robbery the only option opened to many of our unemployed and disenfranchised youths. It is totally unacceptable that nearly 50years after Independence the State is still unable to protect her citizens and provide them with a living wage that will allow people to live well and with dignity. The struggle for daily survival has made some people to feel they have no choice but to resort to armed robbery and wreaking havoc on people’s lives.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

African gathering in memory of Rufus Orishayomi

Saturday, 23rd May 2010
Starting time: 7.00pm
Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street London E8

A Farewell Celebration Tribute in honour of African Theatre Innovator & Practitioner Rufus Orisayomi
(1 January 1947 - 18 February 2010)

An evening bringing together a wide family network of British based African artists, celebrities and friends sharing memorable anecdotes and amplifying the great artistry of Rufus Orisayomi's work and influence. The memorial promises to feature two hours of dramatic performance readings, dance troupes, sketches, music and fascinating art displays from Rufus Orisayomi's very own painting collection.

Confirmed Actors and Artistes performing at the evening include -

  • Ade Solanke
  • Adeola Badejo
  • Amani Naphtali
    Angie Amra Anderson
  • Alan Springer
  • Alex Oma-Pius
  • Ayan De First & his Oduduwa Talking Drummers
  • Ayo-Dele Edwards
  • Ben Onwukwe
  • Bisi Adigun (Arambe)
  • Bolaji Adeola Badejo
  • Cyril Nri
  • Ellen Thomas
    Francis Angol
  • Funmi Adewole Kruczkowska
  • Golda John
  • 'H' Patten
  • Joy Elias Rilwan
  • Judith Palmer
  • Kadija George
  • Moji Bamtefa
  • Ndubuisi Anike
  • Omotolani Sarumi
  • OT Fagbenle
  • Peter Badejo
  • Tito Fagbenle
  • Usifu Jalloh & Wale Ojo

Event Produced & Directed by Femi Elufowoju, jr.

*All proceeds will go to Orishayomi's children.

Tickets: Adults - Full Charity price - £20
16 - 25 year olds - £10
Under 16 - Free

Arcola Theatre Tel: 020 7503 1646

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BookJam 4

All indications are that the monthly BookJam reading events at the glitzy Silverbird Galleria in Lagos, are here to stay. The brainchild of writer Igoni Barrett who anchors the events, the BookJam continues to attract a high calibre of writers from Nigeria and beyond on the programme. Organisers have also shown flexibility with the 3-writers format of the readings, as they've done with this month's coming edition, which promises to be more popular than ever.

Orange prize winning author of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' and lately writer of a third book, 'The Thing Around Your Neck' - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - headlines the 4th edition of The BookJam @ Silverbird.

Also on the bill is Sade Adeniran who took self publishing to a new height with her debut novel 'Imagine This' She went on to win the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region) for the book. She comes to the BookJam as the novel gets its Nigerian publication.

The third featured author is the amiable Chuma Nwokolo. Publisher of African Writing and a prolific short story writer, Nwokolo is the author of 'Diaries of a Dead African'.

There will be a special appearance by Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina, perhaps the most influential winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. He won the Caine in 2002 for his short story 'Discovering Home' and used his prize money to set up the Kwani literary mag in Nairobi. Wainaina is in Lagos to help co-teach at Adichie's now yearly Farafina Writing workshop (also facilitating are: Ghanaian great Ama Ata Aidoo - author of 'The Dilemma of a Ghost', Chika Unigwe and Niq Mhlongo).

The BookJam @ Silverbird
Silverbird Galleria
Ahmadu Bello Way
Victoria Island, Lagos

Date: Saturday May 22, 2010

Time: 3-5 pm

Adichie's Abuja Reading

Words and images by Tunji Ajibade

The Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF) in collaboration with the US Embassy hosted Nigeria’s award winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in Abuja on May 15, 2010.

The attendance was something unprecedented. Nigerians and members of the diplomatic community had begun to arrive the venue long before the time for commencement. That says something. People like writers; Nigerians love their own. They came in droves, some to meet her for the first time, others to identify with her, and yet many more to hear her voice of hope, of her vision for the nation’s literature.

And it was good, the organisers foresaw it. The large capacity Cyprian Ekwensi Centre for Art and Culture was the venue. The 4pm time for the reading was slow in coming, as many had arrived about one hour earlier. Then she walked into the hall of the event, smiling in her usual calm way. Heads had turned, and necks craned as seated guests tried to get a glimpse of her. In a simple red dress, but surprisingly, without the trademark scarf on her head, she certainly had an image that no kid on the street of Abuja would miss. That, considering the good work the (Nigeria) Re-branding Team has done, having displayed her picture for months on green cabs plying roads in the nation’s capital city. Not to mention her images flashed regularly on TV, also by the same Team, where she is listed among Nigerians who are the nations’ positive faces on the international stage. An attendee at the reading spelt this out for the diplomatic community in attendance: “People like Chimamanda should be considered as the image of the country,” instead of the negative treatment Nigerian get abroad.

The Master of Ceremony, Mohammed Sani, set things rolling. He called for opening remarks from different personalities, and introduction was made of literary bodies such as the Open Mic Forum whose members were present at the event. Then the guest author sat down to business. Adichie read not from her latest book, The Thing Around Your Neck, a collection of stories; rather she read an excerpt from a new, unpublished work.
Those who listened would later point out variously: “There was this shocking effect from her description of some things at various points in the story”; “Her story had this graphic touch to it”. This is not surprising. The author is of the school of ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’. She had told her students about this at the creative writing workshop which she handled earlier in the day.

The 25 participants at the workshop had been selected from the responses to a call for submissions. “The entries created much problem, and it was difficult making the selection because of the quality of what was submitted,” Dr Emman Usman Shehu, president of Abuja Writers Forum (AWF) had said at the event. “I write what I like to read”; Watch out for clichés, both of language and of ideas - they are convenient but a lazy way of writing,” Adichie had told her students while she took them through the whole circle of how to generate ideas on what to write, putting them on paper, vetting the work, and how to get a publisher. “I enjoyed the workshop”, she said later, but wondered if a one-day workshop was enough to do all that was necessary to equip a writer. Her yearly workshop in Lagos under her foundation, Farafina Trust, lasts 10 days. She made the best of the brief encounter she had with participants at the Abuja writing workshop though, having pointed out earlier on: “Maybe I can use this to see how well a one-day workshop works out.”

The question and answer time at the reading was a drama on its own – and it usually is, wherever this author who holds MA from Yale University is on the ‘hot seat.’ “I read your book Purple Hibiscus, and you appeared to me like you are fighting a battle,” actor, theatre director and consultant, Jide Zubeiru Attah, said when he had the opportunity to take the first shot. “But in Half of Yellow Sun,” he continued, “you appeared subdued.” Adichie denied much of this. “I am not fighting a battle, what I write is the way I feel,” she said with reference to Attah’s perception that she had taken up the cause of women as against the main (male) character in Purple Hibiscus. And she had no apology for the way she felt about the things she wrote, as her usual candour came to the fore: “If people find my book offensive, they should put it aside and read something else.”

“What propelled you to this level in such a short time?” was the question Dr Onuh, a director in the capital city administration, asked. The response from the author was as informative as it was educative. She identified the fact of growing up on a university campus as important. She commended Nsukka campus, the environment, for the major impetus it gave her to take interest in scholarly pursuits. There, everything was around books, reading and all that was academic. There was the fact of having parents who worked in the same setting too. She has a professor of statistics and former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University for a father, as well as the first female registrar of the same University as mother. “I have the most amazing, lovely parents,” Adichie said. Her parents gave room for questions. “We ask questions, seeking to answers to them.” And of course, “I made my choice.” The choice to write rather than continue the one and half year of studying medicine and pharmacy that she had put in at the University of Nsukka, before she went to live with a relative in the United States of America. She went on to study Communication at Drexel University, at which time she had begun to pen Purple Hibiscus which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005. When the question as to the importance of vision for her where writing was concerned was raised, she said, “the vision for writing is important, and, yes, I am somewhat obsessive about it,” recounting in some detail how she didn’t want to let go of the manuscript of Half of A Yellow Sun, as she had kept calling it back for “one more revision.”

As the Question and Answer session continued, issues of publishing and marketing of books got the author drawing out her daggers. To the complaints that being outside Nigeria may be an advantage in getting a publisher, she said, “I know a woman who is published recently in the US, she wrote the book in Nigeria .” That rhymes with the position she usually took, “If you have done your work well, it will find a home (publisher).” She went on to state that there was something for everyone to do in the effort to overcome the challenges that confront writers. It was clear from her argument that she is one author who does not believe that writers should sit in a corner and complain about how the government or organisations that sponsor literature did not do it well. She believes every writer must sit up and do something to correct whatever is wrong in the system. “What are we doing ourselves? These are important questions we need to attend to,” she had said at the Abuja reading.

And she had set out her own target. “I will like to go to primary schools all over the country.” That, as part of her effort to continue to promote literature by improving quality of writing as well as get people to read, even the younger ones. Tall dream, it may seem. But someone once remarked that a ‘vision is not big enough, until it shocks those that hear it.” Adichie’s is not only daring, it dares, sending out messages that she wants writers to sit up and take back the system from anyone who may be sending it in the wrong direction. From her explanations about going to primary schools, it was obvious she envisioned younger generations raised as consumers of literature materials and who will be potential market for literature when they grow up

Editors of big publishing houses have not been left out of her vision for literature. Earlier this year, she organised a workshop for editors in an effort to improve the quality of reading materials that children in the nation are exposed to. “A newspaper may be all that a young child in a remote place is exposed to,” she argued, “and he may think that all the wrong styles of writing he finds in a newspaper is the best.” She was concerned that this, not only newspaper but any badly edited work, has actually influenced a whole generation. And there is the generation of Nigerians who don’t read beyond what they need to pass examinations. “We must begin to brainwash Nigerians,” Adichie announced. Her audience had made noises, indicating they didn’t get what she actually meant. Not many quickly got wise to her idea of setting in motion a revolution that will change the whole face of literature in the country. So she added, “in a good way,” to clarify her comment, which meant reorienting Nigerians with regard to reading and writing. Yet she had more to say in order to arrive home with her listeners. “If my dream of brainwashing comes true, we will change things.” That was a challenge, and more than that, a voice of encouragement, hope, a dream. “We can do it in spite of our setbacks,” she had added, before she left the ‘hot seat.’

Friday, May 14, 2010

Toyin Akinosho champions Adaobi, who reads today

Toyin Akinosho reads an excerpt from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance

On Wednesday May 12, nearly everyone who was anyone on the Nigerian arts scene turned up for the first of events marking the 50th birthday of Toyin Akinosho, arts persona extraordinaire and General Secretary of the arts advocacy group The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA). Actor and member of CORA, Ropo Ewenla, moderated. There were lots of humourous testimonials from culture workers testifying to Akinosho's overriding passions for all things culture. With Ben Tomoloju, Chuka Nnabuife and Odia Ofeimun, I was part of a panel dicussing Art Advocation in Journalism over the last 2 decades.

Among those in attendance: Tunde Kelani, Frank Okonta (AGAN), Mobolaji Adenubi, Jahman Anikulapo (one of the key organisers of 'Toyin Akinosho @ 50'), Joke Silva, Bruce Onobrakpeya etc - and arts writers/journalists by the droves.

Sometime during the proceedings when Akinosho was called up to speak, he read to the over 200-strong gathering an excerpt from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance.

Which brings us to Nwaubani, who gives her first public reading (in Nigeria) from the book today. Details below.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani Reads
@ Quintessence Bookshop
Falomo Shopping Centre
Awolowo Road
Ikoyi, Lagos
Saturday 15 May 2010
Time: 4pm.

Photos: Abiodun Omotoso

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Habila reviews Forna

Helon Habila reviews The Memory of Love, Aminatta Forna's new novel about four characters trying to cope with the psychological aftermath of the war in Sierra Leone - in today's UK Guardian Review.

Forna writes like a scientist, not only in the accuracy of her descriptions but in the way she selects which incidents to highlight, turning each scene into a metaphor that reverberates with meaning beyond the event itself. One character can't walk, and the doctors are carefully breaking his legs and putting them back together to help him do so. This procedure becomes a symbol for the nation, determined to regain the use of its legs after the crippling civil war.

Forna's writing is not lyrical; you feel that what she is reaching for is economy of phrasing, aptness of imagery, exactness of description, and she achieves that perfectly. This is a remarkable novel: well researched, well thought out, well written – the kind that deserves to be on the Booker shortlist.

And we're told Helon Habila himself should be out with a new novel, 'Oil On Water', later this year.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Yar'Adua's exit

"What passes for the Nigerian nation is nothing more than a tragic arena and Yar’Adua is only the latest tragic figure. The vampires, including those in his own family, turned him into a mere inert resource for their diabolical schemes. They have a reckoning with their conscience, assuming they know what the word means. One can only hope that, while mouthing sanctimonious platitudes such as “Power belongs to God”, they have now learnt that the politics of Do-or-Die cannot guarantee who does and who dies. They must stop playing God."

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Esiaba Irobi dies

Sad news
The poet Esiaba Irobi (photographed by me above in London on 1 April 2006) has died. He passed away last night in Berlin. This is all we know, for now.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

T.M Aluko passes on

We are hearing of the death of novelist T.M Aluko, author of One Man, One Wife (1959) and One Man, One Matchet (1964). A native of Ilesa, Osun State, Aluko died at 4.02am this morning in a Lagos hospital at the age of 92.

A fighter to the end despite a debilitating illness that left him paralysed down the right side of his body (he had to teach himself to write with his left hand), T.M. Aluko on November 9, 2009 launched his last novel, Our Born Again President, in an event attended by many including J.P Clark-Bekederemo, Segun Olusola, Michael Omolayole and Justice Kayode Eso (who had known the novelist from secondary school days in Ilesa Grammar School in the 1940s). The novel's launch came 50 years after One Man, One Wife. Poignantly, Segun Olusola sang a farewell song in Yoruba for Aluko on the day. Many would have known this was the last time they would see the author this side of the river.

The novelist is survived by his children, one of whom is baritone Tayo Aluko, famous for one-man shows including 'Call Mr. Robeson' and 'I Got A Home In Barack'.

Kopano Matlwa and Wale Okediran share the WS Prize

This was the moment South African author, Kopano Matlwa found out she is a joint winner of the 2010 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. The honour - for Matlwa's novel, Coconut (published by Jacana, SA), was announced last night at the grand award ceremony, held at the Civic Centre in Lagos. The South African shares the $20,000 prize with Nigerian author Wale Okediran (who won for his novel, Tenants of the House). The third shortlisted writer, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, went without. Nwaubani had already won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best First Book (Africa Region) for her much talked about novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance.

Organised by the Lumina Foundation (founded by writer Ogochukwu Promise), it was a grand event all right, but one bedevilled by dreadfully freakish, deafening feedback from the sound equipment, such that speakers often had to address the large hall without a microphone. But the award ceremony soldiered on regardless. The Crown Troupe of Africa (led by its founder Segun Adefila) provided most of the entertainment for the night. Amongst many performances, the Crown Troupe did opening segments of 2 Wole Soyinka plays: Death and the King's Horseman and The Trials of Brother Jero. The opening (church) scene of Jero was hilarious and brought the house down. Even Soyinka could be seen laughing where he sat.
Thankfully, unlike some Nigerian prizes whose award galas are dominated by useless politicians, only literary figures and, to a lesser extent, business people were given prominence at the WS award night; and the most distinguished guest of course was the man after whom the award is named.

"Thank you, Franco," said Wole Soyinka, when called by Francesca Emmanuel (member of the board of trustees for the Lumina) to speak. "I thought I'd just come here an sit down and be an icon. Icons don't make speeches," said WS. After complaining about Nigerian cameramen at events like this who don't take their shots and move on but block people's views, Soyinka humorously suggested guests use their dinner forks to poke "the soft backside of a cameraman."

More seriously, Kongi expressed concerns about Africa-wide prizes administered in Nigeria being constantly won by Nigerians. The first Wole Soyinka Prize (held 6 August 2006) was won by Sefi Atta, the second (2 February 2008) was won by Nnedi Okorafor. Soyinka noted that he was involved in an international painting competition administered from Lagos as part of the Black Heritage Festival earlier this month, and a Nigerian won that too. "It's embarrassing," he said, wondering if our style with political results was now creeping into the creative arena. He recalled judging a literature competition (names of writers withheld from him) only for the organisers to come back to alert him to the fact that a Nigerian was not among the winners. I imagine WS probably replying, "So what?"
To Okediran in the audience, the Nobel laureate said, "Wale, I'm sorry, but I hope you don't win tonight." Soyinka made clear that he has no involvement in the organisation or the judging of the WS Prize; his one commitment is to always - as long as he is able, even if on walking stick - turn up to present the prize to the winner (I guess every two years now, going by the regularity of the WS prize so far).
Anyway, Soyinka's message got through loud and clear at the Civic Centre: you can't have a Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa - won over and over again by Nigerians only. The press has also been highlighting the fact that the winners until this year, had been women - was it a women only prize? Quite what bearing any of this had on the eventual 2010 result of winners as announced by Chair of the judges, Olu Obafemi, may be debated. Other judges were: Id Shabbir (Algeria), Liesle Louw (South Africa), Sidaho Makubho (Cote D'Ivoire) and Solomon Mensah (Ghana).

Kopano Matlwa and Wale Okediran were jointly presented the $20,000 cheque by Wole Soyinka.
  • Images by MW